Apple OS X Mountain Lion: 10 things you need to know

The Mountain Lion has landed... and it's a powerful beast

It may look soft and cuddly, but this Mountain Lion is as powerful as it is... user friendly? We ran out of lion metaphors. Read on for a run-through of the most important OS X 10.8 additions

OS X Mountain Lion - the ninth version of Apple's OS X - arrives on shelves and e-shelves today, but do you really need to upgrade?

Like OS X Lion before it, Mountain Lion arrives with "over 200 new features". We've sifted through them and brought you ten reasons why OS X Mountain Lion is worth your time and money.

1. iCloud

iCloud is where all your Apple devices synchronise - it stores all your mail, calendars, contacts, notes & reminders and more, and updates it all automatically wherever you are. For example, if you put an event in your Calendar on your iMac, it will automatically update on your iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch and vice versa.

2. Notification Centre

Swipe from right to left on your trackpad, and you'll bring up the new Notification Centre – a hub for all your notifications. This can be anything, from a recently received email, to software updates to calendar alerts.

3. iMessage

Now you can message anyone on an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch running iOS 5, as well as sending photos, videos, documents and contacts. You'll see when your message has been delivered and when someone's typing a reply, and your messages will stay private thanks to end-to-end encryption.

4. Power Nap

When you put your Mac to sleep, it will still update your Mail, Contacts, Calendar, Reminders, Notes, Photo Stream, Find My Mac, and Documents in the Cloud, and if it's connected to the mains it'll download software updates and make Time Machine backups.

5. Dictation

Now you can talk instead of typing, thanks to Dictation and the built-in microphone on your Mac. Dictation will punctuate for you (for example, saying “full stop” or “comma” will give you the punctuation, as you'd expect when dictating to a person). The more you use Dictation, the smarter it gets, as it learns voice characteristics and recognises names from your Contacts.

6. Game Centre

Log in with your Apple ID and Game Centre will tell you what your friends/contacts are playing, as well as keeping track of all your own records and achievements and syncing them to iCloud. More excitingly, Apple has introduced cross-platform gaming, so you can play against gamers on iPod Touch/iPhone via Game Centre on OS X Mountain Lion.

7. Gatekeeper

Gatekeeper gives you a range of security options to protect your Mac when downloading and installing apps. You can download and install apps from anywhere you like, but by alerting you if you download and try to install an application from a developer who does not have a Developer ID, Gatekeeper will help to protect your machine from malware.

8. Sharing

Mountain Lion puts a lot of emphasis on sharing content, whether it be web links, photos, videos, or something else. You can share from apps like Mail, Messages, Safari and AirDrop, and share to an array of social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and Vimeo. Sharing to Facebook and Twitter will be particularly easy – just sign in once via Mountain Lion and you can sync contacts and share content with the click of a button across a huge range of OS X apps.

9. Safari

Safari has been streamlined, but made more user-friendly at the same time. Now there's just one search field for all your search terms and web addresses. If you're out and about, and browsing the web on your iPhone or iPad, iCloud Tabs sticks the pages on your Mac, so you can pick up where you left off when you get home. And now, Safari doesn't just save links in your Reading List, but saves entire web pages, so you can keep browsing without an internet connection.

10. Mountain Lion for Chinese users

Apple has introduced new support for Chinese users in Mountain Lion, "including significant enhancements to the Chinese input method and the option to select Baidu search in Safari". There's also new integration with some of China's biggest email service providers including QQ, 126 and 163 as well as easy sharing to Youku and Tudou, and system-wide support for Sina weibo.

Does Mountain Lion continue Apple's path towards a single, multi-platform OS? It certainly looks that way. Outside of the new iOS-inspired additions, many older functions are being renamed to synchronise with their mobile counterparts - for example, Address Book has become Contacts, whilst iCal has become Calendar.

If you want to get better acquainted with this Mountain Lion, check out our full OS X Mountain Lion review | Download OS X Mountain Lion from the Mac Apps Store now